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Everything, from books to plane tickets, is digital these days. So, does this mean non-profits can ditch their printer and go totally paperless?

The answer is yes and no, while it is possible it really depends on the organization. Many non-profit organizations have reduced their paper output to some degree, but some have no plans to eliminate printed material. Elaine Fogel, of Solutions Marketing, believes that non-profits are the most effective when they use multi-channel communications. Elaine believes that the “same message in different media has a bigger impact.”

Printing or electronic, no method is 100% effective; non-profits should use a mix of communication to make sure they reach as many people as possible. She advises non-profits to be “customer orientated”, which means communicating with their volunteers, donors and board members in the method most likely to reach them and get a response.

Stewart Goodbody, who works with DoSomething.org, explains that DoSomething.org switched to all digital communications because that’s how their “customer” preferred to communicate. According to Stewart, research “showed texting activates teens more than email, now teens are 40x more likely to sign up for a DoSomething.org campaign via text than email.”

Additionally says Stewart, “DoSomething also shares documents with their board and supporters digitally as well, emailing links to fun quarterly reports.” This method of communication works for his organization, but it is important to remember they are using the preferred method of communication for their audience. Switching to all digital communication might not work for an organization that serves people with limited access to technology.

Of course, some times, it isn’t just about communication. It is about cost savings. Andrew Frank, Executive Director of Making Books Sing, looked at it from a cost saving standpoint. By switching to a cloud-based system and using online calendars his organization not only eliminated un-necessary printing, but saved time too. Prior to moving to a cloud based system, Andrew said his staff would often lose time looking for documents. Now, everything is stored in one central location and more staff time is spent focusing on the mission, not looking for a missing file.

His organization also printed and distributed paper surveys after each performance, now they send volunteers into the audience after the show to collect the surveys on tablet computers. Along with saving them money on printing, it also helped them get a better return rate, not to mention making it easier to tally the responses. This doesn’t mean they have totally eliminated printing. While they no longer print a paper brochure, instead opting to send it as an electronic file; they still print and mail gala invites and paper thank you letters.

Elaine agrees a gala event deserves a printed invitation, it “sends a message that you’re serious and it gives your event a cachet.” Plus, people are so inundated with electronic communications these days, that it is getting harder to get them to open the emails. On the other hand, the novelty of receiving a printed appeal or invitation through the mail often piques their interest. The printer might not get the same workout it once got; it is obvious that in many organizations it still has a secure spot.

Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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Scott Koegler

Scott Koegler is Executive Editor for PMG360. He is a technology writer and editor with 20+ years experience delivering high value content to readers and publishers. 

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